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Point/ Counter Point

Co-op most likely won’t provide you with relevant work experience

Jesse Colautti | Opinions Editor

Once upon a time, I was a co-op student. But after experiencing the pitfalls of the program firsthand, I feel it is my solemn duty to warn others against it.

Midway through my second year, I took a semester off to recuperate my bank account. The decision did not affect my scholarship, academic standing, or ability to return the following fall semester. But to those at the co-op office, my necessary choice made me ineligible for the program.

I was told I had disrupted my academic sequence and that I couldn’t begin my co-op term a semester later than usual. The only option available was to slow my academic progress down to three courses a semester for the rest of my academic career and graduate a full year later than I had already planned.

Granted, I had put myself in this predicament, but I soon learned the inflexibility I had encountered was symptomatic of the broader policies in the co-op office. After hearing the stories of friends who had gone through with the program, I now consider my experience outside it a blessing in disguise.

The biggest issue for co-op students is a shortage of relevant and engaging work opportunities.

This frustration begins for many when trying to find a job for their first co-op term.  There aren’t enough jobs to employ the sheer number of students in the program and as a result later year students are prioritized over those in their first term.

Many students are forced to find their own work during term one, often in workplaces that have absolutely nothing to do with their field of study. These students are still obligated to pay a $650 co-op fee, regardless of whether they were placed in a job.

Even those who find jobs through co-op aren’t guaranteed work in their field. Many people in my program, human rights and conflict studies, were presented with government opportunities that had nothing to do with our program. And good luck to anyone looking for work at a non-government organization; you’d have better luck sifting for gold in the Rideau Canal.

The deficiency of jobs also makes co-op employers less accountable. Friends of mine who were promised stimulating work and a glimpse into the inner workings of government policy were often given menial tasks, such as photocopying and filing, to fill out their 40-hour work week. Employers know how desperate co-op students are for work, and therefore do not have to worry about making their experiences that positive. The demand will always be there.

Work experience is incredibly important, but this doesn’t go hand-in-hand with co-op. Take it from someone who was never able to participate in the program; plenty of opportunities are out there for students looking for stimulating summer work in their field of study that don’t require a $650 fee.


Co-op is well worth it

Simon Gollish | Staff Contributor

The University of Ottawa has many never-ending debates, and the value of the co-op program is certainly one of the most prolific. So let’s put this issue to rest: co-op is a valuable tool for students looking to have a more fulfilling university experience and a more marketable degree.

As we all know, particularly for students in the field of the humanities, finding a job can be difficult. For those who are lucky enough, an employer may bridge you in after your fourth work term. For those who don’t get bridged in, co-op provides a little edge when you head into the job world and need to compete with other intelligent university grads for a job. At a more basic level, having the word “co-op” on your degree also demonstrates a commitment to fulfilling the requirements of the program (no small accomplishment from my experience).

Perhaps the most useful element of the co-op program is the new skills acquired by the student. If all four work terms are done at four different places of employment, the variety of skills and knowledge gained is especially vast. Many skills I learned during my co-op terms directly related to future work and academic settings. Students discover which type of environments they want to work in and what type of work interests them.

Finally, let’s be real about why co-op can change your time at the U of O: the money. Yes, co-op charges a significant fee to enrol, but I can attest — having just filed my taxes — that the income co-op provides is quite significant. Co-op terms allow students to take a break from academia, all the while permitting them to save for the following term. This work-life balance is the most fulfilling aspect of the co-op program.

Like all good things in life, co-op requires a little extra effort, but if you are able to put in the work I guarantee you won’t regret the outcome. Who can say no to receiving an extra line on their degree, gaining life experience, and making a little extra moula? I certainly didn’t and neither should you.